The Astros open their longest road stretch of the season on Monday in Anaheim, where they begin a three-game series against the Angels. Houston will play 10 games in 10 days in three cities. After Anaheim, Houston follows with four in Seattle and three in Kansas City.
When the Astros beat the White Sox, 8-2, on Sunday in Houston, it marked the first time this season the club had won four games in five tries. While the starters have continued to pitch well, the offense has come around, and the bullpen has righted the ship.
"I think we've kind of started to find some consistency in the offense," catcher Jason Castro said. "It seems like we've been pretty consistently getting guys on base throughout the game, putting up double-digit hits pretty frequently, and the hitting and pitching has been doing a great job. When we can match those things up and stay consistent on offense, that's going to be key for us."
The Astros are 16-28 and last in the AL West, but they have the benefit of beginning their tough stretch with left-handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel. The ace has been their most consistent starting pitcher this year, going 4-2 with a 3.06 ERA in eight starts, six of which have been quality starts. He leads the staff in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts and quality starts and is coming off a shutout over the Rangers at hitter-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington. In his past seven outings, Keuchel is 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA.
The Angels will counter with 25-year-old right-hander Garrett Richards, who is 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA in eight starts. This after splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen and bouncing between the Minor Leagues and the Major Leagues during his first three years with the organization.
"I think the biggest thing for him was coming into the spring knowing he was going to be starter," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "Physically, he's stronger. And he's more mature. He's really turning into what you'd want him to be."
Richards tossed seven scoreless innings last week in a 3-0 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Ballpark. He allowed just five hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.
Butcher said Richards' control of his secondary pitches had made him effective early in the year.
"He's always had the two-seamer, the four-seamer, with great movement on all his pitches," Butcher said. "He can control the movement more now than he could. His breaking balls have been a lot better for him -- he can throw his slider anywhere in the count."
Astros: Offense coming around
As a team, the Astros entered Sunday hitting .252 in 29 games since April 16 after scuffling with a .185 batting average through their first 14 games. That included a .296 batting average in the team's previous seven games, with six 11-hit games.
Much of that success can be attributed to the stability at the top of the order. Jose Altuve, George Springer, Dexter Fowler and Jason Castro have all been swinging the bats better lately, giving the rest of the lineup a boost.
Altuve owns a 10-game hitting streak. Springer is batting .298 (14-for-47) in his past 12 games, and entering Sunday Fowler was hitting .303 with a .434 on-base percentage in his previous 27 games, and Castro was 4-for-12 in his past three games, though he was out of Sunday's lineup.
"It's coming together," manager Bo Porter said. "I like the balance and what we have going right now. It's good having George behind Altuve. He's going to see more fastballs, and Dexter is swinging the bat extremely well. And the guys we look to drive in runs are coming behind them."
Angels: Key players could return soon
The Angels could have a trio of key players return from injuries by the end of the month.
Consider: Left fielder Josh Hamilton, sidelined since April 8 after tearing a thumb ligament in his left hand, is on track to start his rehab assignment by the end of next week. Third baseman David Freese, out since May 2 with a fractured right middle finger, began his rehab assignment with the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees on Saturday, hitting a three-run homer in his first at-bat.
Outfielder Kole Calhoun notched two hits in his first rehab game with Salt Lake on Friday. He's been out since mid-April with a sprained right ankle after beginning the season as the Angels' leadoff hitter.
•: Fowler has walked in eight consecutive games, the longest streak by an Astros player since Morgan Ensberg walked in nine in a row in August 2006.